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24 Jul, 2014 19:57

Women, children, UN staff killed in shelling of school in Gaza

Women, children and UN staff were among those killed during the shelling of a UN-run school in northern Gaza, in which hundreds of people had taken refuge. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed outrage and horror at the tragedy.

“I am appalled by the news of an attack on an UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) school in Northern Gaza where hundreds of people had taken refuge,” Ban said in a statement published on the UN's website, adding that “circumstances are still unclear.”

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At least 15 people were killed and around 200 others wounded when Israeli forces targeted the Ashraf al-Qidra school, a spokesman for the Gaza Health Ministry told Reuters.

Ban highlighted the sheer volume of refugees looking for shelter. “More than 100,000 Gazans – that’s five percent of the total population – have sought refuge in UNRWA facilities,” he said.

Over the past two days in #Gaza, one Palestinian child has been killed every hour.

— UNRWA (@UNRWA) July 24, 2014

An Israel Defense Forces (IDF) blog post published on Thursday accused Hamas of firing from Beit Hanoun, a city in the northeastern Gaza strip where the shelled UNRWA school is located.

“Hamas continued firing from Beit Hanoun. The IDF responded by targeting the source of the fire. Also today, several rockets launched from Gaza toward Israel fell short and hit Beit Hanoun,” the IDF stated.

However, Israel's army had obtained “precise coordinates,” according to a UNRWA spokesman.

“Precise co-ordinates of the UNRWA shelter in Beit Hanoun had been formally given to the Israeli army,” Chris Gunness tweeted.

"It's clear that civilians are paying an unimaginable price caught between both sides,"
Gunness told Reuters. "There are reports of Hamas rockets falling around Beit Hanoun at the same time. We were attempting to arrange a window for evacuation for the civilians with the Israeli army that never came. The consequences were deeply tragic."

Laila Al-Shinbari, a woman who was at the school when it was shelled, told the agency that families had gathered in the courtyard when the shells struck.

A Palestinian girl who fled what medics said was Israeli shelling that hit a U.N-run school sheltering Palestinian refugees, sits in shock at a hospital in Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip July 24, 2014.(Reuters / Finbarr O'Reilly)

“All of us sat in one place when suddenly four shells landed on our heads...Bodies were on the ground, [there was] blood and screams. My son is dead and all my relatives are wounded including my other kids,” she cried.

Medical centers in the same area have been treating the injured over the course of the day. “Such a massacre requires more than one hospital to deal with it,” Ayman Hamdan, director of the Beit Hanoun Hospital said.

US Department of State spokeswoman Jen Psaki stated that the attack “underscores the need to end the violence and to achieve a sustainable ceasefire and enduring resolution of the crisis in Gaza as soon as possible.”

“We again urge all parties to redouble their efforts to protect civilians,” she said on Thursday.

A batch of rockets was also discovered at a nearby UNRWA school on Tuesday.

“Today, in the course of the regular inspection of its premises, UNRWA discovered rockets hidden in a vacant school in the Gaza Strip,” the organization said in a statement on Tuesday.

A Palestinian woman holds an infant, whom medics said was injured in an Israeli shelling at a U.N-run school sheltering Palestinian refugees, at a hospital in the northern Gaza Strip July 24, 2014.(Reuters / Finbarr O'Reilly)

The previous Wednesday, UNRWA found some 20 rockets during a standard inspection in a school that it was overseeing.

The fighting between Israel and Palestine has been ongoing for 17 days. The overall death toll from the conflict has climbed to over 750.